'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

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chew8
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'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sat Dec 09, 2017 3:24 pm

I’ve now read the whole of the Clark book: ‘Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning’. I’d be interested in any comments from others who have read it. See also the thread headed ‘Recent blog-post by Greg Brooks’.

Nick Gibb is repeatedly criticised in the book for his enthusiasm for synthetic phonics (s.p.) and the Phonics Screening Check (PSC).

5 of the 7 authors cite the 2006 Torgerson, Brooks and Hall review and all 5 accept its conclusion that there is no definitive evidence showing that s.p. is more effective than analytic phonics. This suggests that these authors, who set store by ‘reading the evidence’, are nevertheless unaware of Johnston and Watson’s 2014 and 2016 critiques of the Torgerson et al. analysis or have chosen to ignore them. See Johnston R.S. and Watson, J. (2016) The trials and tribulations of changing how reading is taught in schools: Synthetic phonics and the educational backlash. In K Durkin, HR Schaffer (Eds) The Wiley Handbook of Developmental Psychology in Practice: Implementation and Impact, pp 203-221, and Johnston, R. and Watson, J. (2014) Teaching Synthetic Phonics, 2nd edition. Sage (Learning Matters).

The relationship between s.p. and comprehension is mentioned over 20 times in the book – some authors say that there is a lack of evidence that s.p. has an impact on comprehension, while others assume that it has no impact or even a negative impact. The book actually ends with the negative-impact type of assumption. The chapter is by Henrietta Dombey, and the final two paragraphs are as follows:

‘Our political masters care about the test scores of our ten-year-olds and fifteen-year-olds on PIRLS and PISA, those crucial international tests of semantic and pragmatic competence. However, they seem to believe that to improve these scores, all that is needed is that the five and six-year-olds learn fidelity to the letters on the page (at least to those in words with regular spellings). The development of England's children as text critics seems entirely outside governmental concern.

We are enduring a policy that is deeply counter-productive. However, when this becomes evident, when our scores on the international league tables continue to languish, it will probably be teachers rather than the policy that will be held responsible. We should not let this happen. The challenge for the future is to bring these issues into the open: to make our masters aware of the need for instruments to assess children and the teaching of reading to reflect a more informed view of what reading is and of the approaches to the teaching of reading that have been shown to work in real classrooms, in England, and elsewhere in the world.'

Dombey says that PIRLS is one of the ‘crucial international tests of semantic and pragmatic competence’, so she must regard it as a good test. Well, the 2016 PIRLS results show that children in England who did the PSC in 2012 are languishing rather less in the PIRLS international league table than children in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, where teaching is closer to the type favoured by the contributors to this book. Let’s hope that those contributors have been ‘reading the [PIRLS] evidence’ and having some second thoughts about what really constitutes a ‘more informed view of what reading is’.

Jenny C.

James Curran
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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by James Curran » Sun Dec 10, 2017 11:03 am

Well said Jenny. It's hard to ignore the International evidence but then some see only what they want to see.

chew8
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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:43 pm

Re. people seeing only what they want to see: one of the things that has always irritated me about those who favour mixed methods or a whole language type of approach is that they predict that an early synthetic phonics approach will have a negative impact on children’s comprehension, enjoyment of reading etc. but don’t then take steps to check whether the predictions come true.

Perhaps the timing of the ‘Reading the Evidence’ book in relation to the publication of the PIRLS results will mean that these people finally have to face up to the need to make the checks they haven’t been making. This is particularly true in the light of the last two paragraphs of the Dombey chapter, quoted in my first post in this thread. Those are also the last two paragraphs in the whole book (apart from appendices) and are therefore probably intended as a crucial take-home thought.

Dombey leaves us in no doubt that she regards PIRLS as testing the kind of thing she favours and that she expected the next lot of results (not yet announced at the time she was writing) to show England performing poorly. In fact, they showed England’s performance to be its best ever, so her prediction did not come true. The results didn’t surprise those of us who believe in the importance of early systematic s.p., however: we know that if accurate word-reading skills are secured early, that means that children can move on early to the kind of wider reading that fosters good comprehension and enjoyment of reading.

Incidentally, some people have noted that England’s results in the very first round of PIRLS testing (2001) seemed remarkably good, though not as good as the 2016 results. Apparently, however, there were problems with the sampling in 2001, and less able readers were under-represented. This was pointed out in a 2006 article by Hilton which I’m still trying to access, but also in a 2007 article by Tymms and Merrell, which states that 'the most damning revelation was that England excluded a wider group of children with special needs than other countries’. (See p. 15 of .http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/E ... ertime.pdf)

Jenny C.
Last edited by chew8 on Tue Dec 26, 2017 5:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:44 pm

Jenny - thank you for reviewing Clark's book. Your review is invaluable. I have shared it via the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction and via various networks and Twitter.

http://www.iferi.org/iferi_forum/viewto ... 1772#p1772

You'll note that I've also added a link to the thread at IFERI leading to blogger Andrew Old's forensic analysis of the 'phonics denialists' - a role he has taken upon himself (thank goodness) for several years.

See here:
'Don't let phonics denialists move the goal posts after PIRLS 2016'
http://www.iferi.org/iferi_forum/viewto ... ?f=2&t=934

chew8
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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:35 pm

Thanks, Debbie. What I've written doesn't really amount to a 'review' - all I've done is to pick out some points which strike me as particularly crucial for us at the present time.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun Dec 10, 2017 7:47 pm

Yes, it is crucial to highlight the errors in the book even if not a full review.

No doubt there will be more to add over time.

Most appreciated.

chew8
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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:44 pm

I hope many people will read the book themselves and not just take my word for what it says.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sun Dec 17, 2017 10:26 pm

As I've said, what I've written her about this book doesn't really amount to a review. I've been googling to see if I can find reviews, but have had little success. I found this, however, in connection with a book launch organised by the Australian Literacy Educators; Association (ALEA):

'ALEA Perth and Curtin University invite you to the WA launch of Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning, edited by Margaret M Clark.

Prior to the publication of the book, Margaret wrote in the Education Journal, October 2017,

"Australia is in the fortunate position of being able to learn from the research that has been conducted since the implementation of the Phonics Screening Check and mandatory synthetic phonics teaching in England. The lesson is clear. The Check, and synthetic phonics approaches are unable to deliver what was hoped. Australia should look elsewhere for answers to its literacy challenges."'


What about the 2016 PIRLS results? We may not be able to say definitely that synthetic phonics and the PSC have caused England's improvement, but there has been an improvement, and this is the reverse of what Clark and Co. seem to have expected.

Jenny C.
'

chew8
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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Thu Dec 28, 2017 11:55 am

I’ve now noticed something else in Dombey’s chapter in the ‘Reading the Evidence’ book: she misrepresents an article by Cunningham and Stanovich (American Educator, Spring/Summer 1998) by citing it as support for her statement that ‘Children who do not feel interested or involved, who respond in a perfunctory way to their lessons get less from them than children who participate eagerly and actively’ (p. 119).

The reality is that Cunningham and Stanovich don’t talk about children participating eagerly and actively in their lessons: their main point is the familiar ‘Matthew effect’ one – children who read a lot get richer in vocabulary, general knowledge and cognitive ability, whereas those who read very little get poorer. The authors stress from the outset, however, that the difference starts to show very early, as ‘poor readers, who experience greater difficulty in breaking the spelling-to-sound code, begin to be exposed to much less text than their more skilled peers’. Dombey makes no mention of this, and in fact argues that a strong early emphasis on decoding is not the best way of producing children who go on to read a lot and comprehend well.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by SLloyd » Thu Dec 28, 2017 5:41 pm

Thank you, Debbie, for pointing out Andrew Old's forensic analysis of the 'phonics denialists'. It says it all. We should be celebrating the PIRLS results, especially at the marked improvement for the 20% who struggle with learning to read.

Common sense tells us that when children are fluent at reading, and at decoding words that they have not met before, then they will be better at reading and comprehension. The PSC encourages teachers to improve the children's decoding skills. Therefore it is more than likely that this caused the improvement in the PIRLS results, particularly at the bottom end.

Nearly always the children who are poor at reading cannot read the words easily and accurately. That is a decoding problem. It would help if the 'phonics denialists' directed their energy into finding out for themselves why systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) is fun to teach and is essential for improving the decoding skills. They would be well advised to go to the schools visited by Ofsted, as reported in 'Bold beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools', and see SSP in action and how this leads to reading for pleasure. In the meantime, it would be good to hear them being positive about the improvement in the PIRLS results and acknowledging that their predictions were wrong.

Sue

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Wed Jan 03, 2018 9:17 pm

Thanks, Sue, for your comments.

Below is a link to a thread via that International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction featuring Ousted's 'Bold Beginnings' report. I have included responses to the report - both positive and negative!

I am sure that the author/s of the report knew full well there would be a backlash from a number of early years personnel and organisations - no surprises there! It seems to me, however, that the report is very sensible and practical and very much 'fair enough':

http://www.iferi.org/iferi_forum/viewto ... ?f=3&t=921

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